Egypt’s population is just over 90 million and is estimated to be growing at more than one million each year. The majority of Egyptians are Sunni Muslim. Christians are estimated to comprise around 8-10% of the population (though some church sources give higher estimates). The Coptic Orthodox church is the largest Christian community. Other registered churches include the Greek and Syrian Orthodox churches, the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite, Roman and Syrian Catholic churches, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Anglican church and 16 other Protestant denominations of which the Presbyterian church is the largest.
Egypt’s constitution of 2014 establishes Islam as the religion of the State and the principles of Islamic law as the main source of legislation, also providing that Christians and Jews may govern personal status and religious affairs according to their own codes. The constitution affirms the principle of non-discrimination, including on the basis of religion. It states that freedom of religion is absolute and guarantees freedom of religious practice in accordance with regulations, though this right is limited to adherents of the Abrahamic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Although religious conversion is not prohibited in codified legislation, conversion away from Islam is not allowed in practice.
Egypt ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR) on 14th January 1982. The ICCPR upholds the right to freedom of religion, including the right to hold a religion of one’s choice and the right to manifest that religion (Article 18). It also upholds the rights of minorities and the principle of non-discrimination. However, Egypt ratified international treaties with a reservation against articles that violate Islamic law.
Christians have traditionally enjoyed good standing in society, with guaranteed representation in Parliament. However, restrictions apply to recognised Christian communities, especially to activities that could be construed as proselytism. Although some improvements have been made in the regulations governing the building and renovation of church property, procedures remain onerous, unpredictable and discriminatory. Political changes since 2011 have led to periods of increased pressure against Christians. The use of blasphemy laws against Christians, atheists and Muslims considered to deviate from mainstream Sunni Islam has increased significantly since the Islamist government of President Morsi. Sectarian violence against Christians continues to be perpetrated with near-impunity, with a spike of violence in August 2013. Christian communities have enjoyed a greater degree of protection under President al-Sisi, who has promised to repair churches damaged in the 2013 violence. Members of the newly elected Parliament pledged in January 2016 to debate a new law within six months to regulate construction of churches. There is strong family and societal pressure against those who choose to leave Islam. In extreme cases they can face violent responses from family members.